NORTH BIMINI MARINE RESERVE
Back in the year 2000, the Government of The Bahamas put forth a visionary proposal to establish a countrywide network of Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) aimed at safeguarding 20% of the nation’s marine environment by the year 2020. An extensive list of 30 suggested locations was created, and then funneled down to five ‘high priority’ sites, with North Bimini at the very top of the list.
As the only mangrove nursery habitat on the western edge of the Great Bahama Bank, Bimini serves as a critically important site for replenishing numerous fishery resources throughout the western Bahamas and beyond. Commercially important species, such as Spiny Lobster, Queen Conch, and Nassau Grouper, all rely on Bimini’s inshore marine environment for survival. Countless other species of birds, reptiles, and fish are also dependent upon these same habitats, contributing greatly to Bimini’s tourism industry and ecological well being.
Between the years 2000 and 2002, numerous community meetings were held here on the island to gather local input regarding the forthcoming Marine Reserve. Several of Bimini’s key stakeholders, along with representatives from the Dept. of Marine Resources and other Bahamian non-Governmental organizations (NGO’s), hashed out the details of the MPA, including the suggested boundaries and management plans for the Reserve.
In January of 2009, a town meeting was held in Alice Town where the newly declared Reserve was announced to the people of Bimini, however as of 2021, there has never been a formal or official imposition of the Reserve.
The proposed North Bimini Marine Reserve is designed to safeguard the island’s world-famous reputation for sport-fishing, while also enhancing Bimini’s tourism product and replenishing valuable fisheries stocks. The area would serve as a “No Take” zone, where no fishery product can be harvested by anyone, and no disruptions to the marine environment can occur without specific considerations and permissions. Catch-and-Release fishing of Bonefish would be allowed within the proposed area, as well as the harvesting of Land Crabs by local Biminites.
As one of the Shark Lab’s primary study sites for more than two decades, the proposed NBMR serves as critical habitat for Bimini’s lemon shark population. Data collected by BBFS researchers was a key factor in determining the importance and value of protecting this area, and our studies continue to monitor the ecological health of this pristine marine environment.
BBFS research has identified over 370 different animal species within the boundaries of the NBMR, including 11 that are listed Threatened, Endangered or Critically Endangered. Smalltooth Sawfish (Pristis pectinata), the Bimini Boa (Epicrates striatus fosteri), and three species of sea turtle (Loggerhead, Hawksbill, & Green) all face dire threats to their survival, yet would be able to find safe refuge within the Bimini Reserve.
Due to extensive mangrove loss that has occurred in the western shoreline of the North Sound, including the destruction of some enormously valuable Spiny Lobster and Lemon Shark habitat, it was suggested in June of 2012 that the NBMR boundaries be slightly modified and expanded. The newly proposed boundaries would greatly increase the amount of mangrove nursery habitat within the MPA, while not putting any additional restrictions on commonly used fishing grounds.